Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Lost Art of the Mix Tape

There is a two-page ad in The Rolling Stone I got today for this movie. The first page is your basic movie ad. The second page of the ad makes me want to throw up, because some fucker in Marketing has decided to build a guide on "how to make the perfect playlist." It gives advice such as "a playlist is for someone special. Someone who means something. Period. If you start giving away too many, they become like party favors - fun for a minute and easily forgotten."

Fuck you. Maybe if you made good mix tapes, then you wouldn't have to worry about this sort of shortcoming. Here's a clue: Maybe keep all of the throwaway hits of the past 3 months off the playlist. It's a start, sweetie.

I started making mix tapes when my dad brought home different components, linked them together with RCA jacks, and called it a "stereo." This was definitely an upgrade to the "all-in-one" Sears stereo with no cassette, and no 8-track, just the radio and the record player. Okay, maybe it had an 8-track, but I'll be damned if we owned more than 5 of those. I started out by putting all of my 7-inch records (both A & B sides) onto a tape. I quickly learned the importance of a pause button. This totally improved the time between songs when having to stop the tape between single songs.

I'd make mix tapes for everyone and anyone. The mood had to strike. I will admit that the majority of my tapes went to girls. But it wasn't because I was looking for love. It was because I wanted to share something important to me with other people, and well, to tell you the truth, the girls just seemed to "get it" a lot more than the guys ever did. Most of all, I did it to introduce people to the stuff I was interested in, or at times, put one together to meet the occassion.

My friend, P-Mart, was throwing a bash in Kansas City at his house circa 1995. I was invited, but it was like a 6-hour drive from where I was living in northeast Iowa. I had two weeks, so I told P I wouldn't be there, but I'd show up. I threw together a 90-minute mix tape full of 70's tunes. This was before you had satellite radio and Music Choice on cable TV. I had to dig to find some of that material. Oh, and special thanks goes out to the "Carlito's Way" soundtrack for that tape. P called later in the night, saying that the people at the party loved the tape. Course they did! I'm the master, bitches!

The loss of the mix tape is unfortunate in so many ways. The length of the 90-minute tape was perfect. 45 minutes per side allowed for approximately 11-14 songs, depending on the style of music and how you put them together. Sometimes I wanted 2-3 seconds between songs. Other times, I wanted to have the songs go bang! bang! bang! and carry the banner. The trickiest part was squeezing that last song onto the last part of the tape. I can't tell you the number of times I nailed the last dying note on the tape before the leader came in. Sometimes it was two or three cranks of the wheel with my index finger before the leader showed up. That's close enough for rock and roll. The CD is a solid 74 minutes, which usually leaves me wanting a bit more. And there's no thrill thought of "Wow, that was great. Can he nail it another 45 minutes?" Flip that sucker over and find out!

Making the tapes were as fun as listening to them. Usually, drinking beer is involved. Also, song selection and order is important to keep the flow going. It was nice having two tape decks, a CD player, and a record player hooked up. Usually, I could plan two or three songs ahead, and as I was listening, I could figure out what would go good where. I always adjusted the volume level, since not all songs are mastered the same.

How do I know I made good tapes? I still get people that I run into on the internet that I went to school with who say things like, "You made me a great mix tape back in the 80s," or, "Man, I was just going through and listening to some of the tapes you made me...you were ahead of your time!" P-Mart's little brother sent me a book by Dr. Frank of the Mr. T Experience. In the package was a letter stating, "You made me a punk mix tape when I was in high school and that really got me into the Mr. T Experience. I never got to thank you, so please enjoy this book."

You know, after watching the trailer to that movie, it doesn't look too bad. I'll leave you all with a case of Sierra Nevada Porter and a sample of the playlist for my 2007/8 New Year's Eve party:

It Never Rains in Southern California - Albert Hammond
Kodachrome - Paul Simon
Like the Weather - 10,000 Maniacs
Take It Easy - Andy Taylor
Angst in My Pants - Sparks
Million Miles Away - The Plimsouls
California Stars - Billy Bragg & Wilco
Sometimes Found - Bottle Rockets
Lost in the Supermarket - The Clash
The Beast and Dragon, Adored - Spoon
Black Cadillacs - Modest Mouse
California - Semisonic
Maggie May (live) - The Faces
Drank Like a River - Whiskeytown
St. Cajetan - Cracker
I Couldn't Spell !!*@! - Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs
Sucked Out - Superdrag

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